Juan Fuentes is not your usual Thomson Bike Tours ride leader – He’s an ex-pro for a start. Juan joined us last year for the Giro and has nicely integrated with the rest of the team. As someone with strong links to the peloton, Juan is an invaluable person in Thomson. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a trip with him, his stories will certainly fascinate.
Juan. give us a little bit of background about yourself
I’m Australian born and my parents are Spanish…
I’ve always loved sports, and in my early years I loved soccer or football as it’s known worldwide.
I fell in love with cycling while watching Miguel Indurain winning the Tour de France in the early 90’s. After watching a Tour stage, I’d jump on my dad’s racing bike a (Casati) and imagine myself on a solo break in a park close to home.
Back in 1993, I moved to Igualada, Barcelona Spain when I was 16, and started to cycle there. I eventually start racing when I turned 18, which is pretty late for a cyclist.
You were a pro cyclist back in the day… tell us a bit about that
I turned Pro in 2002, with Italian pro team Saeco macchine di caffe.
I had finished my last amateur year winning 18 races including 3 stage races, the Vuelta Alicante, La Bira, which is the most prestigious Spanish amateur tour – Lance Armstrong had also won it back in the day – and the Vuelta Zamora, breaking a Spanish record in season victories on the amateur scene.
The 3 years that I had with Saeco I’d have to say were my best cycling years. We had a good balance between young and experienced riders. I roomed with Damiano Cunego who went on to win the 2003 giro and Igor Astarloa who’d become World Road Champion in Hamilton Canada later that year.
Our Director was Giuseppe Martinelli who has the record for most grand tour victories with different riders. He has been director of great riders and champions such as the likes of Claudio Chiapucci, Marco Pantani, Stephen Roche, Stefano Garzelli, Alberto Contador, Vicenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru. He still directs for Team Astana.
So you can imagine the confidence and team tactics coming from him were spot on and I admired the way he could read and anticipate the outcome of a race. Under his direction I was able to win my 2 pro victories in 2003: GP Industria & Artigianato in Larciano ,Toscana Italy and the GP Llodio in the Basque country, Spain.
I raced 3 years in Saeco 2002-2004 and in Lampre Caffita in 2005, before I decided to retire at the early age of 28 for a pro cyclist.
How well did you know Gilberto Simoni?
In Lampre Caffita in 2005, Simoni picked me to room with him that season. Over the years we still keep in touch and in the many races that we’ve done it was always a thrill. We had a great friendship and I’d fly over with him and his family to the Canary islands looking for the better climate towards the start of the season.
I was his domestic for 4 years in both teams and I literally had to be his shadow; helping him in the peloton if there were crosswinds, giving him my wheel when he punctured and chasing down a break if he was feeling good enough to try and win the stage or race.
Apart from being a champion I admire his openness with fans and if you get a chance to meet him you’d see how down to earth he is and his cool sense of humor…if you understand Italian that is 😉
What type of rider are you?
I was a climber back in the day. Now I’m more of a rouleur that defends himself pretty well on the climbs.
What was your hardest ever ride?
The Anglirú racing in la Vuelta.
What do you miss about the race scene?
I miss the adrenaline of racing and the atmosphere. Also the feeling of victory on the podium you get is hard to compare with anything else.
What don’t you miss?
The 40000 kms a year I’d have to do in between racing & training, also racing in rain and cold weather for 5-6hrs.
What brought you to Thomson Bike Tours? Was it easy to get back on the bike?
An ex team mate of mine Marc Prat who I raced with in under 23’s recommended me to Thomson Bike Tours and after a trial in last years Giro everything has blended in perfectly.
Getting back on the bike wasn’t easy. Cycling is a sport that has no mercy. If you don’t put the miles in there are no miracles and it’ll make you suffer…on the other hand if you do put in the effort it feels great when you get good form.
It was hard at the beginning but I still did other sports so I got back into it pretty smoothly.
How do you feel about being around the race scene but from the outside looking in? How did pro-cyclist Juan deal with retirement?
It feels great because I get to see ex team mates, soigneurs and rivals I once raced against, and at the same time I’m honored to be part of this great cycling community.
On the other hand it feels awkward to not be racing but at the same time relaxed and not feeling the pressure of the big race days when you know it’s going to be tough out there on the road.
When I retired, I’d have to say it wasn’t easy. One moment you’re up on a cloud and next day you’re without a contract. The last 12 years of your life have been focused on cycling and all of a sudden you are in the real world…one you thought you knew all about but in reality…you have no idea.
I remember not watching any races and being out of the scene. I guess a time apart allowed me to do other things and explore different places and slowly come back towards something I’ve always loved… without any regrets.
If you could ride with any pro – past or present – who would you chose to ride with?
Present, I’d say Sagan. I have to say I admire his class and how he handles the bike.
Past, Miguel Indurain…because I can say I have raced with many of my favourite cycling Idols.. Pantani, Zulle, Virenque, Bartoli, Paolo Bettini etc.
Do you want to add anything else?
I’d like to add that in regards to cycling or anything you want to achieve, don’t listen to anyone who doubts or discourages. If you believe you can do it, you most certainly can!